After Maintaining Low Profile, Rex Tillerson Addresses State Department Staff Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is addressing his staff on how he plans to cut the budget. The former Exxon Mobil CEO also hired a consulting firm to survey employees across the globe on ways to make the department more efficient.
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After Maintaining Low Profile, Rex Tillerson Addresses State Department Staff

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After Maintaining Low Profile, Rex Tillerson Addresses State Department Staff

After Maintaining Low Profile, Rex Tillerson Addresses State Department Staff

After Maintaining Low Profile, Rex Tillerson Addresses State Department Staff

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/526779511/526779513" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is addressing his staff on how he plans to cut the budget. The former Exxon Mobil CEO also hired a consulting firm to survey employees across the globe on ways to make the department more efficient.

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

Employees at the State Department are finally getting a better sense of their new boss. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson addressed a standing-room-only crowd at the department today. He laid out his priorities for dealing with North Korea and Russia. Here's NPR's Michele Kelemen.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Secretary Tillerson ditched the podium and instead walked the stage, looking like a CEO giving a TED Talk.

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REX TILLERSON: Can you hear me now?

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: Yes.

TILLERSON: All right. I told him I have to walk around. My wife has always said if you tied my hands down to my side, I would be a complete mute.

KELEMEN: The auditorium was packed. And employees stood along the walls listening intently but unable to ask questions. Tillerson did not touch on the concerns many have about looming cuts. One longtime diplomat says Tillerson probably avoided the topic because he's trying to connect with his workforce, employees who haven't heard from him much.

The secretary focused instead on how he plans to translate president Trump's America first slogan into U.S. foreign policy. Tillerson says U.S. values remain constant, but policies have to adapt to promote U.S. economic and security interests.

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TILLERSON: And in some circumstances if you condition our national security efforts on someone adopting our values, we probably can't achieve our national security goals.

KELEMEN: He says America's relationship with its neighbors isn't as rocky as it looks. Mexico and Canada are ready to engage in what he calls a good faith effort to update their trade ties with the U.S. On North Korea, he says the Trump administration has been leaning on China to put more pressure on Pyongyang. And the secretary says the U.S. is preparing for more sanctions if necessary.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TILLERSON: It's a pressure campaign that has a knob on it. I'd say we're at about dial setting five or six right now.

KELEMEN: The goal is to get to talks with North Korea but only, he says, under the right conditions, that is talks about denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula. Secretary Tillerson is also offering a bit of new insight into his approach with Russia. He says there's no trust at the moment. And he's planning to meet his Russian counterpart again next week on the sidelines of an Arctic Council meeting in Alaska.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TILLERSON: We're going to continue to see if we can work together on the first big area of cooperation which would be Syria. And can we achieve a cease-fire that will hold long enough for us to get a peace process underway? I don't want to say we're off to a great start on this because it's very early stages. I don't know where it'll go.

KELEMEN: He's also in the early stages of reorganizing the department. Tillerson has hired an outside consulting firm to survey employees across the globe. The mood at his speech was rather muted on this, though one ambassador says foreign service officers are already mission-driven and would support any efforts to streamline. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, the State Department.

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